Singapore: A Week in Food

Food is an important part of Singapore’s identity. The city-state is home to not only a diverse mix of cultures and languages but also cuisines.

Before moving to Singapore, I knew little about the country’s rich culinary history. Even today, after living here for almost a year and a half, I remain woefully ignorant regarding the names and unique ingredients that make up many of my favorite dishes. My food choices are often based on recommendations from friends and my own rather arbitrary sampling.

Many of my favorite Singapore dishes are from hawker centers. These outdoor food courts offer a wide variety of food options at very reasonable prices. Over the last few days, I’ve tried to document a few of the meals I eat during any given week (at hawker centers or otherwise). I do not profess to be a food critic, or to even be an exceptionally picky eater, I just know what I like (most Singaporean cuisine) and more importantly, what I do not like (see pig liver and durian). But in general, I will try most things at least once.

The list below, in chronological order, represents a few food highlights from the last week. Hope you enjoy.

Monday lunch – Fried fish in a spicy tom yam soup with yee mee egg noodles.

Hot fish soups, in various forms, are popular dishes in Singapore. It can take a while to get used to eating hot soup in the blazing Singaporean heat. But for those willing to sweat a bit (or a lot), it can be well worth the effort. My favorite variant is a simple sliced fish soup bee hoon. This rice noodle soup contains a broth made with a small amount of milk and lightly cooked sliced white fish. In contrast, the soup below was made with fried white fish, egg noodles and a spicy, Thai influenced, tom yam broth.

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The fried fish was the best part

This is from a very small hawker center / coffee shop on Boon Tat street near the Telok Ayer MRT. The queue was long but well worth the wait. In Singapore, a long line generally means one of two things: either the food is very good; or the food is very cheap. It is rare to find both. At S$4.00, this dish was actually near the more expensive end of the spectrum. Very cheap hawker food can run for as little as S$2.50.

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The queue in front of the fish soup stall

Tuesday lunch – Chicken rice from one of my favorite hawker centers, Golden Shoe

This popular downtown hawker center is one of my go-to lunch options.  I particularly like this chicken rice stall on the second floor.

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There is always a long line at this chicken rice outlet

This is labeled boneless chicken rice, but it is still good to ask for no bones.  The juice from the chicken at this stall is unbeatable.

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My large portion was S$4.50. The rice is cooked in the chicken stock and the chicken is steamed (the other method, more palatable to some, is a roasted variant).  The black sauce on the side is a dark soya sauce. Next to it is a red chili sauce that adds a nice kick. Both are great complements to any chicken rice meal.

Wednesday  lunch – Indian food at Shenton House

With a population that is approximately 10% Indian, Singapore has no shortage of good Indian restaurants.  Hawker centers downtown are an especially good place to find quality Indian food at reasonable prices (Indian food is generally a bit more expensive than its Chinese and Malaysian counterparts). This Indian restaurant is located in Shenton House, a commercial high-rise building with a popular food center on the second floor.

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I opted to go for an à la carte option that was more expensive than some of the pre-set meals.

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You can’t go wrong with butter naan

I had butter naan, a cauliflower and green bean vegetable and a spicy chicken dish (not butter chicken).  It tasted great but at S$9.50, it was a bit pricey, especially when a nearby hawker center also offers high-quality Indian food at much better prices.  You may be paying a bit of a premium here to eat indoors.

Thursday lunch – Chicken and noodles from Chinatown

This was possibly my favorite meal of the week. The soya chicken was perfect – juicy and plump. The noodles were also great. I was with a large group of friends so we ordered a whole chicken.

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A whole chicken
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We each got our own side of noodles

The chicken went fast.

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Not much left

We got to the restaurant early to avoid the lunch rush.

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The queue was long when we left

My friends ordered in Chinese so I’m not sure what other foods are offered at the restaurant. However, I will definitely go back for the soya chicken. The meal was about S$6.00 per person, including drinks.

Sunday dinner – Crab Bee Hoon Soup

Amy and I went out to a famous Singapore crab restaurant, Mellben Seafood, which is about a 15 minute walk from our apartment.

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The wait was about an hour but we were rewarded with a delicious, although messy meal of the restaurant’s famous crab soup.

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Crab Bee Hoon soup – tastes like butter!

We also ordered a medium, salted egg crab (think deep fried goodness).

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Salted egg crab

It took a lot of work to get through this meal.

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We made a mess

By any measure, this was not cheap. Each crab came in at nearly S$70. However, it served as a satisfying conclusion to another great week of Singaporean food.

 

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Cameroon – Part 2 (Douala and the drive East)

We spent our first night in Africa at the Star Land Hotel. The hotel was impeccable by Cameroon standards with modern amenities and a nice food selection.  This was by far the nicest place we would stay during our trip and served as a nice transition to the country.

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View of Douala from our hotel room

Michelle arranged for a driver, Julian, to take us around the country. He lives near her village in Eastern Cameroon. On our trip he drove a yellow truck emblazoned with the MTN logo on the front and sides. Our luggage was tied to the bed of the truck and covered with a large tarp.

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Our Cameroon ride

MTN is a South African telecom giant that appears to be in a fierce battle with the French multinational, Orange S.A. for Cameroon customers. Advertising for both companies was ubiquitous throughout the country with signs plastered on nearly all available surfaces and store fronts in Douala and elsewhere.

Julian was unfamiliar with the confusing Douala roads, so he enlisted the help of his friend to navigate us through the city from our hotel.  We piled into the backseat while Julian’s friend sat up front and helped navigate.

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Tight fit in the backseat

The drive from Douala to Michelle’s village, Dimako, is listed at 8 hours and 12 minutes on Google Maps.  The route we took is shown below.

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drive across Cameroon

Unfortunately, the drive took closer to 10.5 hours after accounting for traffic, poor road conditions and multiple “security” checkpoints. However, it provided a good chance to see the country.

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Dusty roads outside Douala
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Place to refuel and stop for some rest along the road
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Garbage along the roads

 

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Fruit for sale along the road – there were also lots of pineapples for sale

The roads directly outside Douala were badly in need of repair and Julian had to constantly swerve to avoid potholes or slow down when obstructions blocked the road.

Our drive to Dimako passed us through the outskirts of Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. In the interest of time, we decided not to stop. After driving through the city, we took a quick break for lunch.

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Lunch!

Lunch was at a small roadside “restaurant” where we ate an interesting dish that was a hybrid of tomato omelette and spaghetti.  Or maybe it was just an omelette with spaghetti in it.  Either way – it was one of my favorite meals on the trip.

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Spaghetti omelet

The food was made to order on a small stove top.

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The chef at work

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After lunch Amy and I stopped in the street for a quick picture before we continued on.

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In the middle of the road.

The remaining drive was long and uncomfortable. The roads were already bad during the day – but after the sun set they became downright terrifying. Julian drove way too fast considering the poor road conditions: low visibility (of course there are no street lights) and lots of unexpected turns. The presence of huge lumber trucks speeding along in the opposite direction, weighed down with massive payloads, added to the real sense of danger.

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I wouldn’t want one of those logs to fall on our truck

Another danger was the inexplicable presence of pedestrians walking down the middle of the road at night. Julian swerved at the last minute on multiple occasions to avoid hitting people.

We passed several accidents on the drive.  These were made all the more frightening by the presence of large crowds gathering around crushed cars or toppled motorcycles with no sign of forthcoming (trained) emergency assistance.

Needless to say, we survived the drive. We had left Douala before 11:00am and (finally) pulled into Michelle’s house a little before 10:00pm.  From Ang Mo Kio, Singapore to Dimako, Cameroon.  It was a long trip.

See part 3 of our trip to Cameroon here.